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VENICE, Fla. — The family of Gabby Petito, the young woman believed to have been murdered last year by her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, appeared before a Florida judge on Wednesday morning to hear whether their lawsuit against Laundrie’s family had to go to a jury. test.
Petito’s family alleged that Laundrie’s parents, Chris and Roberta, knew their son killed their daughter and tried to help her flee justice.
Nichole Schmidt and Jim Schmidt, Petito’s mother and stepfather, and Joseph and Tara Petito, his father and stepmother, appeared before Judge Hunter W. Carroll in Sarasota County Circuit Court for the 1:30 p.m. hearing. One of the couple’s lawyers, Steven Bertolino, appeared virtually, while co-lawyer Matthew Luka appeared in person. Chris and Roberta Laundrie were not present.
The purpose of Wednesday’s hearing was for the two sides to discuss whether to have a jury trial. Before the hearing, Bertolino and Patrick Reilly, the civil attorney representing the Petito-Schmidt families, said they weren’t sure the judge would announce a decision at Wednesday’s hearing.
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Petito’s parents filed a lawsuit earlier this year, accusing Chris and Roberta Laundrie of knowing their son killed Gabby and trying to help him flee.
“Christopher Laundrie and Roberta Laundrie have exhibited extreme and scandalous conduct which constitutes conduct, in the circumstances, which exceeds all possible limits of decency and is considered shocking, atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community”, the lawsuit alleges. “As a direct and immediate result of the will and wickedness of Christopher Laundrie and Roberta Laundrie, Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt were caused to suffer pain and suffering, mental anguish, inconvenience, loss of the ability to enjoy life lived in the past and to live in the future.”
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READ THE TRIAL HERE:
The complaint further describes how Brian Laundrie is “supposed” to have “murdered Gabrielle Petito” on August 27, 2021.
Laundrie then sent fake text messages between her cell and Petito’s “in an effort to hide the fact” that she was dead, according to court documents and the FBI.
The complaint alleges that Laundrie confessed to his parents on August 28 and that the Laundries hired lawyer Steve Bertolino, a longtime friend, on September 2.
Bertolino and co-lawyer Luka filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Luka argued in court Wednesday that there was “no legal basis” for the cause of action against the laundries.
The Petito-Schmidt families “maintain that Laveries had an obligation, a duty to speak out,” Luka told the court. “In our society, under our laws, people are free not to speak.”
The judge asked several questions throughout Luka’s arguments in favor of dismissing the lawsuit, while Nichole Schmidt and Joseph Petito, who sat next to their lawyer, remained silent.
Carroll referenced the recent lawsuit involving actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard when questioning whether an early statement by Bertolino counts as a statement made by the laundries because it was posted on their behalf. He noted that Depp had recently been found guilty of committing defamation for a statement made by his lawyer.
READ LAUNDRIES’ MOTION TO REJECT:
The jurist then asked if a felony had to be present for someone to invoke the Fifth Amendment, which is a person’s constitutional right to remain silent.
Luka responded by arguing that the crime alleged in the civil complaint would help Brian Laundrie flee the country.
“They can withhold all the information until it’s forced upon them,” Luka said of his clients.
Reilly then began arguing against the motion to dismiss.
Laundrie and Petito, 22, set off on a trip in mid-June 2021 with plans to tour national parks in a converted white Ford Transit. The couple had met years earlier on Long Island, New York, where they grew up and later moved into Brian’s parents’ home in North Port, Florida.
Laundrie returned to North Port on September 1 with the van, but without Petito.
After her disappearance, state, local, county and federal law enforcement searched the reservation and Myakkahatchee extensively, where Laundrie allegedly parked her car at the time.
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His family only announced on September 17 – four days after he was believed to have left – that he had not returned.
Petito’s mother, Nichole Schmidt, reported him missing to Suffolk County police in New York on September 11. Search teams discovered Petito’s body near Wyoming’s Grant Teton National Park on September 19 and announced shortly after that she had been the victim of a homicide.
Laundrie’s remains were found on Oct. 20, 2021, at Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park, located in the 23-year-old’s hometown of North Port. His parents found Brian’s bag and other items while hiking with law enforcement in the area, where they had told authorities their son was known to hang out. TUSEN News Digital captured exclusive photos and video of the parents searching the swamp, where law enforcement ultimately made the grim discovery.
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Laundrie was considered a fugitive and was a person of interest in the disappearance and death of Gabby Petito. The FBI had issued an arrest warrant for him on charges related to his unauthorized use of a bank card.